High School Behind Racist ‘Indianettes’ Disney Dance Routine Refuses To Budge

Native American scholars say the plainly racist dance is dehumanizing and reduces diverse cultures to a cartoon mockery.

A Texas high school whose students performed a racist dance at Disney World last week, setting off a storm of outrage over their caricature of Native Americans, has no immediate plans to alter the dance routine or its mascot.

Despite the ongoing controversy, discussion about the mascot wasn’t even on the agenda during a Port Neches-Groves Independent School District board meeting on Monday.

The inaction is the latest in a recent saga stretching back to at least 2015, when Adidas offered to cover the cost for the school to change mascots, including free design support.

The superintendent at time, Rodney Cavness, declined the athletic company’s offer, telling the Beaumont Enterprise that to do so “would be tapering down to political correctness of leftist extremists.”

In July 2020, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. formally requested the school change its mascot, noting the school’s traditions “perpetuate harmful stereotypes and inaccurately depict [Native American] culture.”

Superintendent Mike Gonzales dismissed the request and indicated his continued support for the mascot, saying in a statement that “our [Port Neches-Groves] schools belong to the PNG community.”

Neither the district nor the high school responded to requests for comment from HuffPost.

School officials have seemingly grown accustomed to defending the dance, responding with what appear to be standard talking points any time they’re emailed a complaint.

Among their claims: The dance and their mascot are intended to “honor” Native people; the Cherokee Nation gave them permission long ago (though it has since revoked it ― a revocation the school has dismissed as “extremely dishonorable”); Native Americans used to inhabit the land where the school now sits (notably there’s no mention of why they’re no longer around), so therefore it’s OK, somehow, to parody their culture.

(Disney disavowed the dance completely. Disney spokesperson Jacquee Wahler told HuffPost in a statement the performance “did not reflect our core values” and “was not consistent with the audition tape the school provided.”)

Tiffany Lee, a member of the Diné and Lakota tribes and the chair of the Native American studies department at the University of New Mexico, says these are all familiar, tired excuses, and that nothing about their behavior honors Native Americans.

“Indigenous people continue to be erased in this country through such behavior ― they are reduced to mascots and not seen as human beings with rich, and diverse cultures and knowledge,” she told HuffPost in an email.

“Folks often try to rationalize their racist and stereotypical behavior toward Indigenous people by saying some tribal leaders give them their OK,” she added. “Such approvals do not make their racist behavior OK, and if such ‘approval’ was revoked, the only dishonor is when the school uses the tribe to rationalize their behavior but then dismisses them when the tribe does not now endorse them ― that’s a contradiction and completely dishonorable.”

As for the dance, Lee noted that it’s plainly racist ― and highly offensive ― to dress up and perform as a member of another race, regardless of the race.

“The lyrics and dance dehumanizes Native people, our diverse backgrounds, and makes a mockery of our rich cultures,” she said. “Would this group do this kind of dance and ‘chants’ if they had a mascot that was of another human race such as African Americans or Asian Americans? No, I would hope they can see the racism embedded in that type of portrayal and connect the dots.”

Those comments were echoed by Lauren van Schilfgaarde, the director of the Tribal Legal Development Clinic at the UCLA School of Law, who pointed out the hypocrisy of American identity simultaneously erasing a culture and co-opting it.

“By incorporating Natives into school mascots and logos, Natives can both be reduced to mythic and cartoonish, (i.e. non-existent), status, while also allowing non-Natives to borrow from and fetishize Native imagery to propel American ‘belonging,’” she said, adding that calls to “scalp ’em” ― in light of the very real genocide inflicted on Native Americans ― are “just straight-up racial violence.”

Ultimately, though, she expressed sympathy for the high school students who both didn’t ask for this, and are fulfilling the very reasonable urge to show school pride.

“This is harmful to Natives, but it is also harmful to everyone, including the students forced to contend with these issues while reasonably longing for school and community pride.”

“Tired and generalized war chants and costumes deny Natives self-determination and contribute to the desecration of their culture and very existence,” said van Schilfgaarde. “This is harmful to Natives, but it is also harmful to everyone, including the students forced to contend with these issues while reasonably longing for school and community pride.”

“We cannot change the past. Colonization happened. But a truly great feature of America is our potential to contend and grow. These mascots and other racist performances are harmful. Native communities require our recognition and support. Let’s start there.”

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